Saturday, June 19, 2010

Blue Team: Tori Michael

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a person who enjoys spending time outdoors. My home is surrounded by trees, animals and insects. As much as I try to avoid anything that can bite, crawl, slime or spread dirt – it’s inevitable. If I open a curtain in my room, there is usually a spider web with its creator waiting to greet me and there has been more than one lizard chase me around the kitchen.

I don’t typically admire nature or involve myself with “go green” campaigns. However, being at the Summer Journalism Visitation Program made me realize that the issue of invasive species is one that everyone needs to know more about. After spending the two hours going to different stations where biologists spoke on the issue of invasive species, it was brought to my attention that day after day, invasive exotic plants grow out of control.

“[People] come up with creative ways to control [the plants],” Dr. James P. Cuda, Associate Professor Biological Weed Control said at one of the stations.

As Cuda explained, there have been animals tested to control plants that were sent in to control plants and quickly got out of control. The use of insects to control invasive plants is the best way to ensure that they are being controlled without harming the surrounding environment.

For example, the hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) is an invasive plant that people have tried to control by using the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella). The grass carp was originated in China and does an exceptional job at controlling the hydrilla. In fact, 2-25 fish can singlehandedly control an acre of hydrilla.

The downside is that the fish will also eat every other plant around and there is no way to ensure that it eats one specific plant. The only way that one is able to own a grass carp is to have the fish sterilized and obtain a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Cuda also spoke about an immersed aquatic plant, the alligator weed (Altermanthera philoxeroides), that was controlled by the flea beetle (Agasicles hygrophila). The beetle was brought to Florida from Argentina in 1964, to control the plant which mad esure that the plant did not become a problem. Another plant, water lettuce, one with no absolute known origin, spreads rapidly and is only controlled by the water lettuce weevil.

Another plant, the water hyacinth (Eichhomia crassipes) is controlled by three different insects (two of which are Neochetina weevils and one moth, the Niphograpta albiguttalis). These insects are not as powerful as the flea beetle. While they are able to deteriorate the size and health as well as reduce flower and seed protection of the water hyacinth, they do not fully put a halt to the growth.

What does all of this mean to someone who has no interest in saving the environment?

According to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, exotic invasive plants can reduce biodiversity, food sources and habitats for native insects, birds and other wildlife can disappear, the frequency and intensity of natural fires can be altered and the natural ecological processes may change.

To help control the rapidly-growing invasive plants, people need to become educated and educate others about the issue and how to prevent it.

If there is an inclination that a plant may be one of that is endangering the environment, try to identify it or make a phone call to have someone else deal with the problem for no cost.

“[You] have to identify the problem before you can prevent it,” Cuda said.

If everyone does his or her part to prevent the growth of invasive exotic plants, the environment will being saved, and I will be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I won’t have any excess plants growing outside of my bedroom window.

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